Ann Veronica:A Modern Marvel Apr 1, 2007
It is astonishing to pick up a book published in 1909, a book about a world with cooks for every family, horse-drawn carriages, and no electricity even for the wealthy, and a book by a man to boot, only to find every argument for feminism that has been advanced since 1960 tossed around by Ann Veronica and her avant-garde friends. It is even more astonishing that this remains an exellent read, neither stodgy nor preachy. Welles even affirms the once-upon-a-time older matriarchal societies and goddess cultures, and here I thought these were made up by feminist scholars oh, in the 1980's at the earliest. Ann Veronica herself is a scientist and a good one! She leaves her safe, protected respectable home and dives into the glories of London, only to find no means of self-support for a girl, no jobs, except those that involve sweating for pennies a day. Welles even has Ann Veronica show that there are a million or more women who don't have men to protect them, that women outnumber men, and that only privileged women lead the snug, safe lives she does.
The only things that are not modern in this novel are the total lack of decent employment for middle-class women and, of course, the battle for females to get the vote. However, Ann Veronica finds, as girls do today, that no pretty young thing is safe from sexual harassment, even by her supposed enlightened male friends. Rejecting marriage, even to progressively minded men, because even they want to keep her as an ornament and not listen to her deep feelings, she falls in love with her professor, a married man with a lurid past. Read that as having a strong sex drive.
Although, because of Britain's divorce laws, they cannot marry, she willingly elopes with him to Switzerland, trades skirts for trousers, and hikes the pure mountains. Somehow, and this is the only cop-out, in four years, they are able to get married. One supposes his first wife gives in and allows him his freedom. Of course, they don't bother with a C of E ceremony. The Civil Registry does the trick, and that's enough for Ann Veronica's starched father and maiden aunt to forgive and forget as Ann Veronica embarks upon the wonders of approaching motherhood. What is odd, is that, when in Switzerland, Ann Veronica's bruised conscience for hurting her father is assuaged by her lover who points out that it is in the nature of things for adult children to wrench themselves from parental bosoms. Presumably, then, changing nappies, and wiping up baby vomit is done for its own glorious sake and then goodbye just when the kiddies are getting to be interesting people. Oh, I forgot. This was, after all, England, and there were Nannies to wipe up the brap.